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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 September, 2004, 20:40 GMT 21:40 UK
China begins major flood clean-up
Houses submerged in Chongqing, 7 September 2004
Many areas are without fresh drinking water
Residents in south-western China are beginning a massive clean-up after a week of storms that have left 172 people dead.

The torrential rains have begun to ease, but many areas remain cut off and more than 100,000 people are homeless.

The authorities have warned of more major storms in coming weeks.

China's enormous Three Gorges dam remains on high alert as waters from the flooded Yangtze river continue to pour into the reservoir behind it.

Villages in Hubei province, downstream of the dam, are said to be braced for disaster but officials insist the massive structure is able to cope.

In Sichuan province, 97 people have been confirmed dead and the death toll in Chongqing has risen to 75, Xinhua news agency reported. Most of the deaths were caused by landslides.

More than 10,000 people are reported to be sick or injured.

The Chinese Red Cross has warned of the risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery. It has been distributing water purification tablets and appealing for disinfectant.

Television pictures from Sichuan show towns and cities immersed in thick layers of mud.

The worst-affected area is said to be the city of Dazhou, which was hit with 360mm (14.4 inches) of rain.

Thousands of military personnel, police and other rescue workers are helping to distribute food and medicine in the area.

The waters pouring out of Sichuan are surging down the Yangtze river towards the heavily-populated provinces of central China.

Navigation through the Three Gorges dam has been suspended for the first time since operations began earlier this year and the authorities are reinforcing the structure's outlying bulwarks.

Flood control

The dam project, built at a cost of $25bn, is supposed to help control China's annual flooding.

World's largest water control project
Designed to produce hydroelectric power and curb flooding
Dam has 26 generators, which will eventually produce 18.2m kilowatts of energy
When fully completed, it will create a reservoir 600 km long
More than 600,000 people forced to relocate from the area
But it continues to be highly controversial, even though China desperately needs the power it is designed to generate, says the BBC's Francis Markus in Shanghai.

According to Ute Collier, the dams initiative leader for the World Wildlife Fund, the main danger concerns people living below the dam.

As water fills the reservoir from the swollen rivers above, the level has to be reduced by releasing extra water downstream to alleviate pressure on the walls of the dam.

"This could become a serious problem if the rains continue," Ms Collier told BBC News Online.

The BBC's Francis Markus
"After the disaster, now comes the mammoth task of rebuilding countless lives"

China's Three Gorges dam on alert
08 Sep 04  |  Asia-Pacific
At least 100 dead in China floods
07 Sep 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: China
03 Jun 04  |  Country profiles


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